Can Grammar Solve Politics?

The answer is no. Duh.

But it can provide an interesting lens through which to view political rhetoric. On Tuesday night’s presidential debate, moderator Candy Crawley corrected Mitt Romney when he attempted to catch the Prez in a lie over having used “act of terror” in a speech regarding the attack in Libya. [ref]okay, for a piece about grammar, that’s a complicated sentence. Apologies to all.[/ref]

In reading my Google News feed earlier today, an article on Fox News caught my eye–a piece by Judith Miller entitled “Crowley’s intervention as moderator-in-chief swung the debate in Obama’s favor.” The argument at the heart of the essay/journalistic endeavor is that in the Rose Garden speech in question, the President’s use of “act of terror,” was in fact “acts of terror,” and far more generic in meaning. He was not, Fox News contends, clearly referring to Benghazi–he could simply be referencing 9/11 or other, more general, acts of terror. And in confirming that he indeed referred to Benghazi as an “act of terror” in that speech, Crawley’s intervention was interpretive and not necessarily factual. Here, before I totally ruin any credibility I have as a grammar person, [ref]too late[/ref] I’ll let Judith Miller explain.

Then he went on to praise the Libyans for helping save others under attack and lauded the victim, U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Three paragraphs later, he said he had been to a memorial to commemorate 9/11 and paid tribute to those who had died in Iraq and Afghanistan. And a paragraph later, he added: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

Was Obama’s use of the term “acts of terror” referring to 9/11 and the other militant Islamic attacks that have plagued America for so long? Or was he referring to the murders in Benghazi as “acts of terror?” Fair-minded readers may disagree. Even CNN’s own John King said that Obama’s statement struck him as a “generic” comment about terror, and not specifically a decision to label the Libya attack a terrorist act.

Now, as someone who cares about grammar, [ref]mostly because I misuse it terribly. again, we have a complicated relationship[/ref] I believe that the use of the word “act” in the sentence containing “that justice is done for this terrible act” clearly refers to Benghazi as the “terrible act” in question, which then designates this “act” as a specific example of the more generic “acts” in the previous statement. “No acts of terror” such as “this terrible act.” The second reference to the word confirms its inclusion, and thus, Benghazi is, by association, one of many “acts of terror.”


There you go, Candy Crawley. Your “biased” intervention has the support of Grammar Logic. [ref]trademarked![/ref]
But we all know grammar is elitist.

No one wants to elect a grammar nerd to the Oval Office. It wouldn’t be right. And it wouldn’t solve a thing.

Or would it? [ref]This is just to say: the top image was shamelessly stolen from the New York Times website without permission. Forgive me. It was delicious. So sweet and so cold.[/ref]

Words, Words, Words—mere wind, sir

I’m actually, actually, finishing my book this summer. The book I’ve been writing and reading from for (gulp) five years now. 1)Whatever, plenty of books take more than five years.

Going through it has been an act of nostalgia (“I remember writing that!”) and an act in self-deprecation (“Oh, that’s so overwritten!”), but I’m learning that writing a book, a good book (I hope), takes patience, tenacity, and self-discipline—all of which I naturally lack.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my reading roots. How sad I am, for example, that the old, ugly McAllen library has been closed.

I only say ugly because the new library is so pretty. It’s won awards for its prettiness. My friend Carolyn wrote about it in the L.A. Times (for Jacket Copy, the book blog). She interviewed me about it, and then Gawker picked up the story, and now a few friends from high school have texted, wondering if the Adriana Ramirez mentioned in the piece is me. It is me. I’m not famous. I’m just a citizen and friend of journalists who pointed out the proximity between a building and the violent border.

But then again, I write about violence. Drug violence. Border violence. The violence of change and time. Like my book. The one I’m finally finishing.

George Bernard Shaw said it best in Dark Lady of the Sonnets, “Words, Words, Words—mere wind sir.” He’s making fun of Shakespeare when his character says the phrase, but I can’t help but imagine all the words I’ve typed and read in my lifetime fluttering around me, gaining speed, and funneling themselves into a cyclone. Wind can be violent too.

My parents would drop me off at the old library on Main street, and at my request they’d leave me there for hours lost in stacks, and always amazed that so much information could be contained within those walls. Of course, I’d read:  Many inappropriate things for a child, usually in the Adult Large Print section, but I learned a lot about myself, about culture, about desire and intrigue. I read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books in 1996. I knew about sex from the Thorn Birds and about sexy machinations from Ken Follet. I typed, typed!, on the typewriters on the second floor all my applications for college, thinking my  handwriting too unprofessional for a first impression. Painstakingly tapping out  my personal statement, keystroke by keystroke, not wanting to make a mistake and have to start over or brave the  unsightliness of correction tape. I remember locking myself in study rooms and following IMDB trails for hours on the borrowed computers. And sure, it’s all there, but it’s in another building. The place I remember no longer exists. And years from now, the new library will just become “the library,” and the old one will fade into memory.

And while I can’t stop myself from being sentimental, I can certainly control how deep wade into the remembrances of the old building 2)just a little, I swear. I’m not going to lie, there’s something beautiful about an old library. Knowing that books have been there for well over fifty years 3)the old library was built in 1950, that some  librarians probably have too. The Main Street library taught me how to use reference books, how to look things up on microfiche, how to feel like a detective and a journalist before I ever knew what either of those professions really were. Community libraries serve as monuments to our pasts. And the buildings that house these monuments symbolize just as much. Architecture that has withstood change and circumstance can make knowledge feel  more permanent, and when you enter a building like that, one that bears the imprint of time as well as its books bear the imprints of obscure presses, one cannot prevent succumbing to acts of nostalgia and self-deprecation. We remember who we were, we remember our felt potential. And how we grew, moved on, and left the shells of our past behind us. Like that beautiful, old building. Even though it’s ugly next to the new.

If words are wind, then libraries are hurricanes.

References   [ + ]

1. Whatever, plenty of books take more than five years.
2. just a little, I swear
3. the old library was built in 1950